The Zohar teaches that when Jews leave their homes and enter their sukkot, they allow for God’s presence to dwell among them. According to tradition, “guests,” ushpizin, join as guests in the sukkah as well. There are seven ushpizin in total; one leads the other six into the sukkah each night of the holiday. Traditionally, the seven guests are: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David. To greet them officially, there is a special prayer said that specifies the guest of honor for that evening. In Sephardic communities, it is even customary to prepare a chair and light a candle in honor of the ushpizin. In some communities, ushpizot, female counterparts of the male ushpizin, have been added to their Sukkot celebration. The tradition of welcoming the ushpizin highlights both God’s protection and providence over the Jewish people and the importance of the mitzvah of hakhnasat orhim, welcoming guests.
In this activity, students will prepare to welcome the ushpizin to their families’ sukkot and/or to the school or synagogue sukkah. Using decoupage to explore symbolism, students will make placemats or plates to designate the ushpizin’s place in their sukkot.
To decoupage plates you will need the following:
• Mod Podge or glue
• Foam paint brushes (at least one per students)
• Clear glass plate (at least one per students)
• Glass paints
1. Have your students choose one of the ushpizin/ot for whom they would like to make a plate to have in their sukkah. Alternatively, they may choose to make one plate for all the ushpizin/ot.
2. Brainstorm with your students ways in which they would choose to represent their guest or guests. Ask: What images would you use to represent the personality you have chosen? What words? What symbols? Why? [For example, if a student chooses to make a plate for David, he or she may want to use musical instruments, words from Psalms, and/or battle armor to represent him. If a student chooses to make a plate for Aaron, he or she may want to make the plate look like the Kohen’s breastplate with twelve jewels.]
3. Provide students with magazines and paper and markers so they may find or create symbols to use to decorate their plates. Once they have done this, give them a plate so they may design where they would like their images to be placed. Note that the students will be gluing the images to the bottom-side of the plate, so that the images will show through to the front.
4. Using Mod Podge or glue, have them paint the area where they would like their images to be placed, carefully adhering the image afterward. Once the image is on the plate, apply the Mod Podge or glue on the back of the image to reinforce its placement. Continue to do this until all the images are placed.
5. If your students want, they may use glass paints at this point and paint the entire bottom of the plate, to give the plate a new color and a completed finish.
• Construction paper
• Foam paint brush
1. For placemats, do steps 1-3 the same as above.
2. Have your students glue their images on a large piece of construction paper.
3. Using marker and/or paints, have them decorate the background of their placemat.
4. Let the placemat dry, and then laminate.
For a complete ushpizin welcome, decorate a placemat and a plate and create a full tablesetting for the personality chosen. Ask students to consider carefully what they would use for cutlery, how they would fold the napkin, and what type of glass would they use for the guest. All these additional elements should be consistent with what they know about the guest they have chosen and fit in with the rest of the project.